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Seattle Reign recap: When a draw feels like a win

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Seattle went down a player in the 4th minute against FC Kansas City, and held it together for a draw.

Reign FC vs. Sky Blue FC Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

SEATTLE — After a month-long road trip, Seattle Reign FC returned to Memorial Stadium on Saturday for its first of three home matches over a seven-day span. The evening match was against a familiar team—FC Kansas City—who Seattle faced just a week earlier on the road.

Like last week’s match, this one also ended in a draw, although it was the Reign stealing the two points this time around.

Saturday’s duel was the same kind of chess match fans have come to expect when Seattle and Kansas City face off, with one slight adjustment: one team was playing with just 10 players for virtually all of the match.

FC Kansas City Coach Vlatko Andonovski asked his Blues to begin with high pressure in the attack. It paid off early when forward Shea Groom got the ball and went sprinting toward goal. Lauren Barnes tried everything possible to disrupt Groom, including dragging her arm back and pulling her to the ground. Just four minutes into the game, Barnes, Seattle’s last defender at the time, was given a straight red card—the first in her career—for denying a goal-scoring opportunity.

Jess Fishlock immediately dropped back and played alongside rookie Kristen McNabb in the centerback position. Lindsay Elston and Christine Nairn worked like a pendulum in the midfield together—covering significant ground as they pushed up and tucked in to provide support for another another and force Kansas City to cross from out wide instead of playing up the middle.

It was working well until Kansas City opened its scoring in the 16th minute. Centerback Yael Averbuch sent a ball forward, which midfielder Alexa Newfield flicked toward goal. Her ball found a running Brittany Ratcliffe, who then sent it past Haley Kopmeyer and into the bottom right corner.

The Reign didn’t back down, however, even after giving up an early lead. The team continued to press, and allowed just one more shot on goal in the first half. That momentum carried into the second half, and in the 50th minute, Naho Kawasumi put Megan Rapinoe through on goal on the left side of the box. Rapinoe sent a nice low shot to the far post, but Nicole Barnhart made a great kick-save to keep Seattle scoreless.

Reign FC did manage to put one in eight minutes later, when Rapinoe whipped a half-shot/half-cross into the box. Her ball was flicked by Blues defender Becky Sauerbrunn—forcing Barnhart into a quick-reaction save. Barnhart parried the ball away, but it fell right to Naho’s feet at the back post, who buried her shot.

Katie Johnson, who came in for Merritt Mathias up top, continued to pressure Kansas City’s backline, and the Reign managed to get four shots on goal—compared to six for the Blues. Despite getting tired, Seattle still had a few big opportunities in the second half, including a corner kick that bounced around and appeared to have crossed the endline just minutes before Naho’s equalizer, though no goal was given.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but Seattle players certainly walked away feeling like they won. It was a complete team performance, with every player along the backline—along with Elston and Nairn in the midfield—putting in arguably their best game this season.

“What you saw from us was nothing but heart,” Fishlock said after the match, admitting this was the first time she’s ever played centerback in her career. “Tactically we were superb. I’m so proud of who we are and what we showed today.”

Reign FC head coach and general manager Laura Harvey echoed Fishlock’s comments. “I’m really proud of the players. It’s tough to play for 87 minutes with 10 players,” said Harvey. “Every single player that touched the field tonight gave everything.”

Does this result change much in the standings? Not really. The Reign remain in fifth place after 10 games, but Harvey believes the team needed to get a result like this to prove something to themselves and spark a small shift in their mindset.

“Games like that can be a turning point for the season. I don’t think we need a turning point, but we needed something to live by. We’re better when we have adversity against us, and tonight we had that, and we stepped up.”

If this match proved anything, it is that the Reign should never be counted out. Heart and defensive organization can go a long way. Reign FC will put its heart and grit to the test this week, as the team’s next match is just four days away, when they host the Chicago Red Stars. That Wednesday match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT at Memorial Stadium.